Monday, June 23, 2008

Ulysses S. Grant

I really appreciate NPR's Writer's Almanac. Though the daily entries may not always "speak" to me, I learn and appreciate so many nuggets about writers, contemporary or historical. One recent "gem" was about Ulysses S. Grant, the great Civil War Union General and two term president of the United States.  After his presidency and travels, he joined an investment banking company with his son, which experienced a boom for several years. Then it was discovered that a partner was embezzling funds and he found himself several million dollars in debt, broke less than 10 years after leaving the presidency. He had been repeatedly approached about writing his memoirs and declined previous requests. Now, deeply in debt, he also discovered he had throat cancer and not long to live. Mark Twain offered him a generous contract (75% of the profits) so he wrote through great pain during much of that time. He wrote and revised his work diligently, finished his memoirs in July 1885 and died four days later.   

His publishers sold 300,00 copies of his memoirs by subscription, using young men in Union soldier's uniforms as the sales force. His royalty of $450,000 was the largest of his time. Everyone was surprised by his very strong writing skills and one comment indicates that his clear prose "was a model of autobiographical writing."   His book, Personal Memoirs is one of the very few books written by a U.S. president that is also regarded as great literature.
For anyone interested in historical accounts and the Civil War, this sounds like a very strong contender.

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